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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  April 18, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT

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good evening from los angeles, i'm tavis smiley, tonight a conversation with a legendary folk artist ar arlo guthrie and the son of the famous troubadour artis gutherie. we hope that you will enjoy a conversation with arlo guthrie in just a moment.
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frand contribuand from cont your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. hello. i'm pleased to welcome arlo guthrie into the program. he has been a leading part of america for 50 years, and the son of woody guthrie and arlo is in the midst of the latest "run down road" tour. we are delighted that he took time the out of the tour to stop by the studios. it is an honor, sir to, have you on this great program. let me start with this, because i was just -- tickled, when i came across this. so his father, woody, wrote a
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song called old man trump. >> yes. that trump. >> about his racist landlord fred trump who happened to be, as you know, donald's father. and one of the lines in the song, and i quote, i suppose that old man trump knows just how much racial hate he stirred n up in the blood spot of human hearts when he drawed that color line here at the beach havenle family project. so your father lived in a trump building? >> me, too. that is where i grew up. >> that is is where you grew up. and your father had something to say about old man trump. what do you make of that coincidence all of these years later? >> well, i have mixed feelings about it, because i get a lot of stuff that says, arlo guthrie is just like his dad, you know. so i understand what that is like to have somebody place you in a guilt by association. >> uh-huh.
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>> and when my sister, norah, found these lyrics, she asked me if i wanted to do something, and i said, no. there's enough to dislike about the president without having to go back to his dad [ laughter ] >> yeah. but so, somebody put it to music though? yes. >> yes sh, my son-in-law, johnn he did some really good cut of it, and some others have done it as well. so i am happy they did it, but it is not my thing. >> it is not your thing. so sincen you went there how have you managed all of the years being the son of woody guthrie and finding your own artistic niche? >> well, i came to the conclusion that at some point when i was very young that i was my own person. i just knew that somehow. and maybe it is because there
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were so many people that used to come to our house when i was a little kid. and they would dress like my dad. they would talk like my dad and write songs for my dad and do all of these things, but they weren't him. you know. so at some point i realized that even though you might admire somebody, and you might draw some inspiration from them, you can't be them. >> yeah. >> it is no less true for me than it is for anybody else. so, i always thought that the kind of things that we are doing is the kind of things that my dad dreamed of. you know, i have taken my family all, my wife and kids and all of that out on the road. we have done the tours together, and the grandkids. and that is the dream that my dad and mom had. >> yeah. >> they never got to do it. and so i get et to do stuff that they dreamed about. and it is not the same as pretending the be him. >> yeah. >> and so you can't run away from it. >> and in the midst of it, mr.
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arlo, how did you find your own voi voice? >> well, by accident. i did want to be a singer. did want topt be a songwriter. did want to be a entertainer. i wanted to be a forest ranger. i did not like to be around large crowds of people, and so i thought, well, forestry, and i thought in my dreams i would sit on the back porch and play music with my friends, and so i went to school in billings just to do that, and it did not work out. >> and you got pulled in anyway? >> this life is a karma disaster. so i didn't mean to be me, but at some point i real izized tha was dealing with something that was bigger than me. >> and when did you stop resisting the call, the vocat n vocation? >> i left montana in the fall of
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1965, and i went to visit some friends that owned an old church, and got involved taking out their garbage, and the tale, and that is '65, and the tale i told about it sort of took a year to put together. so alice's restaurant took about a year, and then i performed it in the summer of 1967 at the newport folk festival. i rememberb that i was not scheduled to play there, and i went there with my guitar like all of the other people. and then at some point they said, okay, we are going to have to, you know, put you on the main stage. you have to sing that song, man. i sauid "really?" and they said "yeah." i remember pete seeger and others saying he is a young kid and he may not be able to handle
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the crowd out there, and it is like thousands and thousands of people, and so they said at the end of the song, let's just, and he has a little part that goes if one person does it and if two people do it, and if 50 people do it, and so let's just gout to send out some friends, and so the end of that thing, everybody who had performed at that festival is out there singing the song with me. i got back from that, and it was like a switch had gone off, and it is like, okay, the old days are over, and my dreams are shot [ laughter ] and we are doing something else now. >> and bam, there you have it. 50 years later, alice's restaurant has just been re-released. it is interesting how the stories come to be. and it is 50 years since you did that. >> i can't even remember, and the only thing that i remember about the original is that we recorded it in a studio sort of like this, but with a live audience. so there is no take two. there is no, let's do it again. and there is no, let's fix that.
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and everybody that had been invited to that studio recording had already heard the song. it is supposed to be a funny song, and they had heard it 100 times, and so there was nothing funny about it to them. and every time i hear that original record, i hear, you know, that audience going -- you know. it drives me crazy [ laughter ] >> and yet, you could not stop it. and it was mr. hugo who said that there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come, and when it came, you couldn't resist and you had to own it. >> i remember dealing with it, and my mom telling me, arlo, if you really want to do this, you better learn to do something else, because the audience is fickle. they can like you one day and not like you the next day. i remember thinking about that and i said, nope, my mama is wrong. if i know how to do something else, and the times get bad, i will do something else.
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and soreand i have refused to learn anything else. so that is it. >> you had no fall-back. >> and when the times got bad, and they do, from time to time. it is nothing else to do. so i just kept doing it. and here we are. >> kind of like me. i ain't got but one talent, and that is questionable on some nights. >> well, you have a good one. >> i appreciate it. and tell me about your friend pete seeger, because you mentioned him earlier on in the conversati conversation. and it is not enough that your daddy is woody guthrie, but you are hanging out with pete seeger i remember when i went to visit pete and his wife toshi and i was 5 or 6 years old and we were living in queens at this time in new york, and i went out to their place, and pete had built a log cabin on the high bluff over the hudson river, and i said, whoa, this is like davy crockett stuff or something. and so we got there and i was
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really excited. i remember my mom saying, okay, arlo, go out to play with the other kids. i was not hanging out with pete seeger, but hanging out with his kids like any family, and over the years, and i thinking maybe that in the mid-'60s at that time when there was so many people out on the streets, and so many things going on and there was, and the war and the ban the bomb, and change your sho shorts and do the laundry, and pete was always there. you could hear the banjo of his from blocks away. i remember walking through wshgd a -- washington, d.c., and i could hear his banjo, and him singing, and there is no other instrument like that. so i met up with him at all of the different thing, and then in the late '660 '60s we started the annual shows at carnegie hall around thanksgiving. and we did that and the last one
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we did was a few months before he passed away. he was 94. he could not walk out on the stage. he had two canes and getting out there, and that audience wouldn't let him do anything. they were just up, and i mean, i had never heard an audience cheer and clap and yell for five or ten minutes, and it kept going, and we could not get the show going. >> what did you sense in that minute of appreciation for pete seeger? >> that pete is right, there is a power in music that most people overestimate. and you would not know it really but what you like, but it is what you don't like that shows you how powerful it is. in the old soviet union, there were pieces by beethoven that were banned. why is that? there is no words in there. but there is a spirit in there. it comes out. and unless you are the kind of person who says, i don't want to hear that or that is dangerous,
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and you know, when you are threatened by something, that is how you know the power of it, and not when you are sitting back having a cocktail on the beach someplace and there is music in the background. that is not going to get your attention, but when something threatens you, you know what it is. and it occurred to me that pete always knew that. he always knew that there was a power in the songs, and spirit of people singing together, and he proved it over and over again. i this they audience that night at carnegie and all of the shows that he has done throughout his livle helpfe life helped to build that convick none in him, and then it was more powerful, because not only did he believe it, he could actually see it. >> and here we are with the president once again dropping bombs over syria, and does folk music at large have that
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persuasive poignant power in it? >> it depends how you identify the folk music. for me folk music is the original social media, and that is the way that people used the find out what was going on. >> i talk it. >> and in the old days, and i'm not -- i mean, i will be 70 this year, but when i was a kid, i remember hearing the recordings of people like my dad and others, buddies of his who had come from the rural areas where folk music was only news they had. they would write song, and maybe makeing fun of the town over th hill, we are not dumb like those guys, you know, and you will see some of it in vestiges of the sports teams or something like that where, you will build yourself up by putting somebody else down. >> the bravado. >> yes. and that happened throughout the history of music, but it was
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local. and them an all of the sudden i the '30s we started to build up a national music scene and recordings of those could not be played because they would make somebody angry in the next town. so you had to play some songs that would not offend anybody, and the songs were dumber and dumber, and it is only recently that because of the internet and things like that, that you can hear those kinds of song, but you wouldn't necessarily associate it with the guy like me and the guitar and it might be some kids in some cities somewhere doing their own kind of music, and they are talking about what is goingn and what is happening. you don't associate that with folk music, but i would. >> back in the day, people at this level not the kids on the intern internet, but people at this level were speaking that truth to power, and for that matter, speak iing the truth to the powerless, woody guthrie, and pete seeiger, and bob dylan and
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the list, and at this level, but do you see the artists at this level doing that? >> of course. >> yeah? >> yes. they are always there. but they are not always popular. there was a glitch in the system that happened in 1960s, and like a number of things, music was only one part of it. not only did the music speak truth to power, it also talked to each other. that is the thing. we were talking to other people. but it was not just the music in those days. the guys that did the fashion, and the guys that did the theater and the guys that did the art, and the guys that did all of that, and we all knew each other. we were all hanging out with each other. and now it is all sort of the target rg markmarketed so there music for you if you are 15 or 16 and you have your own channel and radio and tv and stores to go. and so we don't have that kind of of the integration that we had not only in the music scene,
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but we had in the world anymore and it is going the get back there, because it is a normal human kind of the instinctual draw, that draws you into people who may be doing a whole different world of art or different world of what you are wearing or how you look or what you are speaking like or what language you are talking, and those people find their way together. just takes a little while. >> yeah. >> and what do you appreciate most about growing up in the era that you grew up in, and we talked about the household that you grew up in, and the people that you got t nhe know in the right household and what did you appreciate about growing up in the era that you grew up in? >> what i was just talking about, and there is a worldwide event that took place in the l early 1960s and i don't know what it was by the way, and everybody who says they know what it was, they are making it up. but i will tell you this, it did not come from the top-down, but
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from the bottom-up, and i remember, and i remember the newspapers and the tvs and the radios all trying to identify especially the politicians who are these people and who is leading them. but we didn't have any leaders. it is a ground swell and so they made up leaders. we all bought it. that one there, that is the leader. you know. well, when you are have leaders, you can, and everybody accepts that, then sut eait is easy to what is going on, but we didn't have leaders and nobody could change anything, becausen at the women's march that they had in washington, d.c., they had all of the speakers and the talkers and the organizers, but most of the people in that crowd didn't know who they were and never heard of them before, but those are the people, the media goes to and says that is the leaderk and it is their fault that there is all of the women out there in the street. i think that was the one thing
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that i felt personally was the most interesting thing is that it couldn't be identified. it was just a change in consciousness, and something happened, something shifted. it changed everybody. it didn't even change everybody by the way. it just changed, and it didn't even change most people, but it change d a critical mass >> just enough. >> just enough. and that is what i am looking for today and i can see the same thing happening right now. there is not a majority, and there not most, but there is enough. and if everybody who feels that enoughness is willing the get out there and say me, too. i'm in this. it will change faster than anybody can imagine. >> is there a lesson or lessons for that group of enough in this moment to take from the group of the enough in your era? the lessons to learn? >> i don't think that there is any lessons that you can learn. everybody is going to reinvent the wheel no matter what you say
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and not matter what i say. u i remember i was walking down the street with pete when he was 92, 93, and that is during the occupy thing in new york. >> yes. >> and pete wanted to go. it is after a show that we had just done together. i am looking at him like, pete, are you kidding me? i mean, now is the time to go out the have a beer. and he said no, we are going to meet those kids, you know. i said, okay. you know, whatever pete wants. >> all right. >> and so i am following him down the street, and he has two metal cane, and he is walking 30 block, and like in november and it is cold, and he has a funny little hat on. he gets to, we were meeting in the middle sort of like columbus circle, and so there were a bunch of young kids coming uptown and we were going downtown and we met in columbia circle, and nobody knew who he
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was. nobody recognized him. nobody had learned anything from him him and they were singing songs like they knew a snippets of and a couple of words and that is it. and then they would move on to the next song because nobody knew enough to keep the same song going, but pete, and he had the banjo and he starts to playing, and all of the sudden, all of those young people who had never heard of him said, who is that guy? and there is something magnetic, and he drew them in. he had been doing it for a long time. and he started to singing the song, and he started to give them the words to follow along and then all of the sudden a spirit thing going on. >> oh, yeah. >> and the heart thing. >> oh, yeah. >> you foeel like i feel like something is happening, and that changes you sh, and it changes chemistry in the brain. it changes your heart. it changes everything. i was not even concerned after that whether this particular movement if you want to call it
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would succeed or not. that is not the point of it. the point was to change everybody who was there so that they would have some of what you are asking about which is the initial experience. it took us years when in the early 19660s time after time, an thing after thing, and place after place to get that spirit organized to where you knew how you fit in, and you knew that you counted. that took a long time. but it has already started. it started not just with those folk, but, you know, other people in different places. if i would have imagined at some point that all i am is toast and done when i am out of here, why bother. but there is something else going on. >> uh-huh. >> and i'm not a theologian and so i don't know what it is, and i don't even care. it is not my interest. my sense is just to acknowledge it. if it is coming to you to figure out, great. yippee, and if it doesn't, you
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don't belong there anyhow. so a lot of people trying to get something, and lot of people trying to understand, and a lot of people trying to believe or trying to have faith or trying to -- you don't have the try anything. it is all there. all you have to do is to not be closed to it if it should ever come upon you like those moments that we were just talking about with pete. it comes upon you, and it finds its way into your life through somebody or some circumstance that you could not predict, it comes. that is all you need to know. >> and let yourself be a vessel. >> that's it. >> that's it. >> i love this guy. it has been 50 years since "alice's restaurant" was first performed at newport at the folk festival, and there is a special version of it out now on the 50th anniversary of this great classic. since you happy to bring your instrument with you, would you be kind enough, sir, to play us out with something. i will say good night no the audience, and you do your thing.
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that is our show tonight. thank you for watching. and as always keep the faith. here is arlo guthrie. ♪ it is times like these ♪ when night surrounds me ♪ and i'm weary ♪ and my heart is a wall ♪ and the songs they are a singing don't mean nothing ♪ ♪ cheap refrains play on and on ♪ ♪ and the storm is here ♪ the lightning flashes ♪ between commercials they are taking names ♪ ♪ and singers run to where the cash is just another lipk nk in slave slavery's chain ♪ ♪ the storm is above me
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♪ the night has come ♪ i walkle alone ♪ along this high wway ♪ ♪ where strangers gather ♪ one by one ♪ when leaders profit from deep division ♪ ♪ when the tears of friends remain unseen ♪ ♪ and when times like these ♪ it is good to remember these time times will go and times to come ♪ ♪ i see the storm clouds ♪ rise above me ♪ the sky is dark and the night has come ♪ ♪ i walk alone along this highway where friends have gathered one by one ♪ ♪ i know the storm will soon be
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over ♪ ♪ the howling winds will cease to be ♪ ♪ i walk with friends from every nation on freedom's highway in times like these ♪ ♪ [ applause ] >> all right, buddy. for more information on to d tod today's show, visit >> hi, i'm tavis smiley and join me next time as we take a deep dive in what is happening around the country. that is next time. we will see you then.
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and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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